Wednesday, June 14, 2017 6:38 pm
TEXT OF OPENING REMARKS MADE BY THE ACTING PRESIDENT YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, AT THE MEETING OF THE ACTING PRESIDENT WITH LEADERS OF THOUGHT FROM THE SOUTHEASTERN STATES HELD AT THE OLD BANQUET HALL, STATE HOUSE, ABUJA ON WEDNESDAY JUNE 14, 2017
Yesterday I kicked off a series of consultations and engagements with Leaders of Thought from Northern Nigeria. It was a useful meeting
Today’s meeting, the second in the series, is with you, Leaders of Thought from the Southeast.
After this, I will meet with Religious and Traditional Leaders from the North and from the Southeast, on Friday and Monday respectively. And then, in the final consultation, next week Thursday, all of us, from North and South, will come together in the same room, for further engagement and consultation.
I also plan at some time in between to meet with the Nigerian Governors Forum.
These consultations are necessary, and important, because of recent events in the country. You are all aware that there have been loud and sometimes hostile agitations by youth in the southeast, calling for secession of the region from Nigeria. Then there was the recent ultimatum issued by a group of youth from the North, asking all south-easterners living in the North to leave by October 1 this year.
Both of these expressions and agitations from both sides, have been attended with some controversial and hateful vituperations including patently illegal and violence-inducing remarks.
I firmly believe that we ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively. Burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storm to blow over of their own accord is not an option.
But equally not reasonable is falling for the temptation for tit-for-tat. It has never worked or moved us closer to a solution or resolution.
And so it is in our bid, as government, to deal with these pressing issues and grievances, that we have convened this series of consultations, with various groups. We will never shy away from the responsibility to ensure and uphold the peace and security of Nigeria.
It is in my view the role and responsibility of those privileged in society to be leaders to chart a progressive and lofty course for the ordinary people. As leaders, we carry the burden to secure the peace, progress and prosperity of our people, and that is why our voices ought to be heard and heard loud and clear at moments like this in the defense and articulation of what is truly beneficial to the nation and the people, and what is right and patriotic.
Our dear nation has gone through some really difficult times. We have survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, and emerged from a long and bloody Civil War. All of us here have seen close-up what violence can do to a country, and I believe I speak for us all when I say that no one here is keen to see Nigeria embroiled in violence or bloodshed of any kind.
Especially not when we are only just emerging from a brutal insurgency that has consumed more than 20,000 of our brothers and sisters and children, as well as the better part of a decade.
One thing is clear – violence and war are terrible things. They are easy to start but near impossible to end. Indeed you’re all aware of the Igbo proverb that says that “A man who rushes into battle does not realize that battle entails death.” We are witnesses to the unspeakable devastation that war continues to inflict across the world. No one who has seen the horrors of war – even just on television – would wish it on their worst enemy.
It is also clear that wars sometimes start, not with bullets, but with words. Hateful, incendiary speech, opening floodgates of blood. The tongue, like the pen, is often mightier than the sword – because it is what pushes the sword into action. When we throw words like stones in a marketplace we do not know who or what it will hit.
Knowing this, under no conditions whatsoever should we tolerate or excuse or justify hate speech or hateful conduct of any kind, especially where such is illegal. Let me of course acknowledge that as part of living together in this space called Nigeria, misunderstandings and frustrations are inevitable. Because resources are limited there will always be a striving to get what is perceived as the best seat at the table.
All of that is normal and to be expected, especially in a democracy, like ours. A healthy democracy ought to be a theatre of energetic striving by all parties and stakeholders. But things should never descend to a level where mutual suspicions override the desire to live together in peace and harmony.
Yesterday I made it very clear that hate or divisive speech, or divisive behaviour, where it is illegal, will be met with the full force of the law. I will say it again today: Let there be no doubt whatsoever of the resolve of government to ensure that no one will be allowed to get away with making speeches that can cause division or violence. We will take very seriously any attempts to cause violence or to disrupt the peace of Nigeria. And we will not tolerate such.
We are also resolute in our determination to protect every Nigerian, everywhere in the country.
We will do everything within our power to defend and uphold the terms of our constitution, which declares that we are one nation under God.
It also guarantees the free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the country, as well as full residence rights for every citizen in all and any parts of the land of their choice. It is also the aspiration of the Constitution to ensure a country in which, and I quote, “loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties.”
And it is the responsibility of the Government to create the conditions for the attainment of these ideals. There is something that President Buhari is fond of saying: that without peace and security there can be no development. We cannot develop a country that is not in the first place safe and secure for all its people. For this reason we take extremely seriously our constitutional responsibilities as your government.
Those responsibilities also include listening to, consulting, and engaging with you; giving every citizen and every part of the Federation a sense of belonging and significance. And that is why we are here today.
I expect that we will be frank and constructive in all our deliberation and discussion. This is an important moment for all of us, and I hope that at the end of it we will all be satisfied that we have accomplished something significant.
By the grace of God we will leave to coming generations a peaceful, secure and prosperous nation; a nation in whom all citizens, regardless of age, gender, and ethnic/religious affiliations, will feel deep and enduring pride.
I now would like to listen to your views and interact with you on these issues as we together consider the future of our great country.
Thank you very much. May God continue to bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.